Strengthening Community Ties in Semmes

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Ilsy Gray has been the Center Director at ECMHSP Semmes Center since July of 2017.  But her story with ECMHSP started in 2014, when she was the Family Services Coordinator.  She says this position prepared her for the challenging role that she holds today.  Ilsy is originally from Honduras and holds a degree from Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), where she graduated as a Chemical Engineer.  Besides leading her center to success, Ilsy is also working toward an Early Childhood Education degree at Bishop State Community College.  She’s passionate about furthering her education and motivating others to do the same.

Stephanie, an ECMHSP parent, recently got hired as the new Family Services Coordinator, which will allow her to take a break from working in the fields and spending more time with her family.  Stephanie previously served on the Parent Committee in 2014 as the Secretary, so she has been trusted with this role of enrolling farmworker families.  “Good communication has been key to building strong relationships.  It’s rewarding to see the children and their family’s growth as seasons go by,” says Ilsy.

The families at the Semmes Center in Alabama harvest fruits and vegetables. In addition, they plant and prune ornamental plants, ferns, and pine trees for Christmas. The season starts in May and ends in September.  The countries primarily represented by the center’s farmworker families are from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.

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ECMHSP Semmes Center Parent Orientation 2018

They recently opened for the season on Monday, May 7 with 45 children. This season, staff plans on strengthening their current community partnerships, which are crucial for farmworker families’ well-being. One of the most important partnerships is with the Mobile Health Department.  The Semmes Center staff consider themselves lucky to have two former ECMHSP employees working at the Mobile Health Department, making them very responsive to the center’s needs.

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David Baker, Mayor of Semmes, Alabama, visits the ECMHSP Semmes Center.

In addition, the City Hall of Semmes is very engaged with the center. Last year, David Baker, Mayor of Semmes, Alabama, accepted the center’s invitation and attended the literacy festival, where he shook the hands of many of our ECMHSP parents.  Ilsy looks forward to a great 2018 season at the Semmes Center.  She has promised to stay in touch and continue sharing the growth of her community.

ECMHSP Presents at 2017 NAEYC Annual Conference

Clara Cappiello y Emily Diaz

On November 17, Emily Diaz, a preschool teacher with the ECMHSP Loxley Migrant Head Start Center in Alabama, and Clara Cappiello, Training and Development Manager at ECMHSP, were prepared and excited to present at the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) annual conference, which took place at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta. They were a part of, “Grandes Comienzos,” a special track for the Spanish speaking conference attendees.

The session title: “Currículo y cultura: Cómo incorporar el idioma y la cultura de todas las familias para optimizar el currículo” (Curriculum and Culture: How to Imbed all Families’ Languages and Cultures to Optimize the Curriculum). Emily and Clara were eager to share their experiences in making the curriculum relevant and culturally responsive to migrant and seasonal farmworker children and their families.

Emily Diaz with Dr. Iliana Alanis, a member of NAEYC Board of Directors, and two professors from the University of Texas

After a brief summary of the most recent research on dual language learning and the importance of being responsive to all families’ languages and cultures, Emily and Clara described a process to gather authentic, rather than stereotypical, cultural information from every family. The information gathered is leveraged to develop critical children’s school readiness skills. Emily explained how she made cultural displays, identity books, used family letters and photos, and other learning materials many of them co-created with families. Videos demonstrated how she used these bilingual cultural resources to develop language, early literacy and math skills.

Emily and Clara felt confident attendees gained value from the presentation, as many displayed excitement about the new ideas, congratulated them for their work and expressed gratitude for the information obtained.

 

Philadelphia Inspires the New ECMHSP Policy Council

ECMHSP welcomed a new Policy Council in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the birthplace of America. During the week of August 13 through August 18, parents representing all of the ECMHSP Migrant and Seasonal Head Start programs gathered for the annual orientation, the election of the new Policy Council Executive Committee and the Policy Council meeting.

The week began with a meeting of the outgoing Policy Council Executive Committee on Sunday afternoon, at which the elected parent leaders reviewed the state of the Policy Council and the orientation plans for the week. ECMHSP is so proud of the leadership displayed by the Executive Committee throughout their year of service and thanks them for the active participation in ensuring ECMHSP Head Start services are of the highest quality.

ECMSHP Board Member Juvencio Rocha Peralta is learning about Policy Council Member Silvia Rodarte’s personal story.

On Monday morning, ECMHSP’s Chief Executive Officer Dr. Jose Villa welcomed the Policy Council to the orientation session and shared his passion for the organization and his personal commitment to the farmworker families we serve. New and returning Policy Council members were then given the opportunity to get to know each other through introductions and icebreaker activities. John Menditto, ECMHSP General Counsel, provided the Policy Council members with an overview of the Head Start program, its history and explained the program’s funding.

The morning concluded with a guest speaker, Maria Adame. Maria was formerly a farmworker parent who received Head Start services through ECMHSP delegate agency, Pathstone Corporation, in Pennsylvania. During her time at ECMHSP, she actively participated in its governance as the elected Policy Council President and member of the ECMHSP Board of Directors. Maria shared with the group that as a result of her involvement with ECMHSP, she experienced tremendous personal growth and was able to find inspiration to pursue her dreams. She is currently enrolled in college and is now the Family Services Coordinator at Pathstone Corporation.

Former Policy Council Member Maria Adame shares her journey with Head Start parents.

The afternoon’s orientation session was led by the returning Policy Council members with the support of the Governance Department staff. They were able to share information about the role and responsibilities Policy Council members, often times including examples from their personal experience. The new members were able to comfortably ask questions from the fellow parents and receive relevant information by people that understood their daily challenges.

Tuesday was filled with presentations from ECMHSP staff that covered important topics, such as school readiness, quality assurance of our services, the selection criteria for qualifying families, and the policies and procedures for governance. These sessions provided he Policy Council members with detailed information needed to execute their responsibilities in a meaningful way.

The afternoon presented an exciting learning opportunity for the Policy Council members. Philadelphia has a number of important historical sites that mark the birth of the nation and remind us of the importance of active participation in the decision-making of our country’s policies. At their tour of Independence Hall, Head Start parents were able to learn about the start of the United States government and how many of the important decisions were made. Afterwards, they visited the Liberty Bell and learned about the American values of freedom, liberty and equality – all which are needed for a successful term on the Policy Council.

ECMHSP welcomes the new Policy Council, which poses with the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia.

The following day, Policy Council members participated in roundtable discussions on the important work done at the Policy Council Standing Committees: Planning, Child Heath and Development, Governance, and Fiscal. The orientation information of these committees were provided by the ECMHSP management staff that provide support at the committee meetings. They allowed Head Start parents to have more face time with personnel and get their questions answered.

Policy Council members ran and voted for this years leaders of the Executive Committee.

In the afternoon, Policy Council members were able to put into practice many of the things they learned during their visits to Philadelphia’s historical sites. We were able to witness democracy in action as the Policy Council elected its new leaders into the Executive Committee from a record-breaking number of candidates.

This year’s Policy Council Executive Committee includes: Meiby Mora, representing Virginia region, as President; Ramona C. De Loera, representing Florida Western region, as Vice-President; Leticia Baez Mellado, representing delegate agency Pathstone Corporation, as Treasurer; Silvia Morales, representing Florida Eastern region, as Secretary; Fernando Estrada, representing delegate agency Pathstone Corporation, as Parliamentarian; Patricia Miranda, representing South Carolina region, as Direct Services Member at Large; and Maria T. Reyes, representing delegate agency Benedictine Sisters of Erie, as Delegate Agency Member at Large.

New Policy Council members were able to learn about their roles and responsibilities from the ECMHSP staff and returning Policy Council members.

Following an exciting election, Policy Council members were able to learn the important work the ECMHSP Fiscal Department does to ensure our Head Start fund policies and processes are in compliance with the Office of Head Start, and the important role parents play in the process. They were also informed on ways they can be involved in ECMHSP’s Human Resources processes and the support the organization provides to help farmworker parents achieve their dreams.

The week concluded with the new Policy Council putting into practice the lessons they learned at the orientation sessions. They actively participated in the committee meetings on Thursday, where recommendations for the Policy Council were shaped after much discussion and thoughtful consideration. The new Executive Committee then led a very successful Policy Council on Friday, at which they voted on the important recommendations received from the committees.

The 2017-18 ECMHSP Policy Council at Independence Hall in Philadelphia.

ECMHSP would like to give a very special thank you to the Policy Council members that made the time to participate in the orientation week to learn about their important role in our governance. Their active participation and passion for high-quality services for their children were truly inspiring, especially in such an important city for democracy and governance. We wish them much success as they start their term!

2016 Annual Report: A Year in Review

ECMHSP is excited to announce the release of the 2016 Annual Report. The report showcases the great success ECMHSP experienced in providing comprehensive and high-quality services to farmworker families along the East Coast.

Some of the highlights from this year’s report include:

  • An overview of our indigenous language curriculum with parental involvement
  • A red carpet rollout of a documentary featuring a ECMHSP family
  • A parent’s effort to bring her congressman to her Head Start center
  • Total number of children and families served

Cover of the ECMHSP 2016 Annual Report

Each year, ECMHSP releases its annual report, pursuant to requirements in the Head Start Act. The report includes information on funding sources, results of the most recent financial audit, and other information required by the Secretary of Health and Human Services.

You can view the full 2016 Annual Report and past annual reports on our website: http://www.ecmhsp.org/reports.html

ECMHSP thanks our staff for their wonderful work and Head Start parents for their participation throughout the year. The hard work, love, and dedication is felt every day at our Head Start centers, and is reflected in this report.

Indiantown Center Hosts the ECMHSP Board

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Parents in Indiantown leave their children at the ECMHSP center to learn and play while they work in zucchini fields.

On January 20, the Board of Directors of East Coast Migrant Head Start Project had the opportunity to visit children and staff at our wonderful center in Indiantown, Florida. The day began as days begin for many of our children – with a bus ride. And like the preschool children who ride our school buses, the ride to Indiantown was a learning experience for everyone on board, as ECMHSP Head Start Administrator Loretta Jones shared lots of wonderful information about the Indiantown center and the community of farmworkers who are served there. We learned, for example, that families speak a variety of languages at the Indiantown center including Spanish, Creole, English and dialects of Mexico and Central American countries, such as Guatemala.

Before visiting the children, we had the opportunity to meet with Geraldo and Maria Rivera of Lakeside Ranch of Indiantown and see our farmworker parents hard at work harvesting organic zucchini. Geraldo and Maria were generous with their time. They shared that as small, organic farmers they were deeply reliant on the labor and skill of our parents to harvest their crops. Board member Jaime Delgado shared his knowledge of the zucchini harvest, noting where to cut the vine and how young the zucchini needs to be for peak return.

Head Start children at the ECMHSP Indiantown Center.

Head Start children at the ECMHSP Indiantown Center.

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ECMHSP Board members visited center classrooms, where they interacted with the children.

Following the visit to the farm, the Board received a tour of the Indiantown Center. Center Director Floria Pachecho and her core team did an excellent job of explaining on how the Indiantown center prepares young children for educational success. Particularly noteworthy was the presentation by Early Childhood Education Specialist Karen James of the center’s school readiness results. As always, the teaching staff impressed us with their dedication and knowledge of best child care practices. And, as always, the Board members enjoyed all of their interaction and engagement with the 63 children in attendance.

The day after the site visit, our Board dedicated their Saturday to a full day of governance work. A packed agenda included discussion of a new five-year strategic plan for ECMHSP, and our implementation of the new Head Start Performance Standards. We are so fortunate to have a committed group of mission-driven individuals to guide our work.

OHS Announces New Head Start Program Performance Standards

On September 1, the Office of Head Start published the final updates to the Head Start Program Performance Standards, which describe what is needed to deliver comprehensive, high-quality individualized services to support the school readiness and healthy development of children from low-income families. According to OHS, the new standards announced last week are the first comprehensive revision of the Head Start Program Performance Standards since they were originally published in 1975.  The final rule aims to capitalize on the advancements in research, available data, as well as input from Head Start grantees and the public input in order to accomplish the critical goal of helping Head Start reach its full potential so that more children reach kindergarten ready to succeed. You can view Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell announce the new rules in the video below.

Head Start grantees and other stakeholders were invited to submit comments on the proposed updates Head Start Program Performance Standards in June 2015 through the OHS notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM).  ECMHSP wanted to ensure that our farmworker families were informed about these proposed changes and were given the opportunity to provide meaningful input. After all, as many parents pointed out, they know better than anyone what their needs are, and their children are affected the most by these decisions.

While their parents work in the fields, ECMHSP provides these smiling children high-quality Head Start services.

While their parents work in the fields, ECMHSP provides these smiling children high-quality Head Start services.

ECMHSP staff presented the proposed changes to the ECMHSP Policy Council –which is comprised of farmworker parents representing all of our service regions and members of the community– during the Summer Policy Council Orientation and Meeting in August 2015.  Parents from the Policy Council had concerns about the proposed rule changes and wanted their comments to be presented to the OHS.  ECMHSP collected thoughtfully-written comments and passionate audio recordings in which parents shared their support for some of the proposed changes, as well as disagreements with other proposed changes and why they thought it might hurt their programs.

One of the proposed changes that caused the most concern with farmworker parents was the removal of the requirement for each Head Start center to have a parent committee.  Parents worried that some centers would choose to eliminate the parent committee and diminish their role in the Head Start program.  Many of the parents shared how they rely on parent committees to receive in-depth information about their center’s program operations and feel these formal committees are necessary to provide their input.

The collected comments from farmworker parents were shared with the National Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Association, of which ECMHSP is a member, and helped shape the comments that were submitted to the OHS on behalf of the Association.

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ECMHSP’s Policy Council, comprised of farmworker parents and members of the community, voiced their concerns with the proposed Head Start Performance Standards.

After reviewing the final changes to the Head Start Program Performance Standards, ECMHSP is pleased to see the OHS recognized the concerns and comments of Head Start parents, and even referenced to their comments in the publishing of the final rule. Thanks to the active participation of our farmworker parents, parent committees will remain a required mandate for every Head Start program. Agencies will retain the parents’ critical decision-making role as leaders in the program governance and operations. Parents voiced their support for other changes in the new Head Start Performance Standards as well, including the discretion to allow members of the Policy Council to serve a maximum of five one-year terms, up from the current maximum of three one-year terms.

The new Head Start Program Performance Standards outline improvements to ensure:

  • effective teaching and learning in the Head Start classrooms;
  • expanded time for learning and healthy development;
  • strengthened and comprehensive Head Start services and family engagement;
  • the health and safety of Head Start Children; and
  • effective management and continuous improvement of Head Start programs.

We are grateful to all of our Policy Council members that provided us with their concerns, submitted their thoughts on the issues, and shared their stories from their community. Our parents’ voice is a critical component to ECMHSP success and played a central role in the comments submitted to the OHS.

You can read the Head Start Program Performance Standards final rule here.hs-perf-standards-graphic

Guest Post: Education Starts with the Very Young

Dr. David Conde is the President for North America of the Chamber of the Americas. He currently serves as the President of the ECMHSP Board of Directors and is a contributing writer for La Voz Bilingüe. This is his latest article.

For me, my early educational journey was a messy business with many stops and starts as we traveled the migrant and seasonal work route around the country. We could not start the school until well into the academic year and had to leave early to start again working the fields from state to state.

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As a child, Dr. David Conde struggled to succeed in the classroom due to his family’s migrant lifestyle; he brings these personal experiences into the ECMSHP Board of Directors meetings.

So, I did not have to imagine what that did to my academic progress and the future probability of not finishing K-12 and becoming another statistic. To this day, I cherish the memory of being able to stay in one place for the time it took to start and finish junior high school.

Fortunately, I was a lucky migrant child of a mother who had an 8th grade education and taught me to read and write in the evenings after work. I remember skipping block lettering and learning to write in cursive in English and Spanish because that was the way she taught me.

The most interesting and at times, glamorous part of my student journey was at the universities that I attended and the class discussions about meaningful subjects for a scholar. It was also in higher education that I learned that by the age of six a child has acquired most of the learning components and concepts that are the basis for the intellectual awareness that will follow the rest of the life experience.

It dawned on me that K-12 and the college experience was really an elaboration of the basic structures acquired during the pre-K years. I realized that the time spent with my mom in the early years as an infant and toddler learning about letters and stories were fundamental to what I became as a learned person.

Today we have early childhood institutions that are vital learning centers to the very young. The most important for children of families with scarce means is Head Start, a federal program chartered to address the important early childhood years.

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Children of farmworker families are able to play and learn in ECMHSP’s Head Start centers located along the East Coast, from Lake Okeechobee, Florida, to Lake Erie, Pennsylvania.

Dearest to my heart in this area is East Coast Migrant Head Start Project, a program that serves over three thousand children of migrant worker families along an agricultural route from Florida to Pennsylvania as they harvest the food we put on the table every day. The initiative takes children from six weeks to five years of age and puts them on an intellectual journey in two languages that prepares them for the public schools at the Kindergarten level.

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As President, Dr. David Conde leads the ECMSHP Board of Directors in making important decisions on how to best serve the migrant farmworker community.

My colleagues and myself on the board of directors look forward to every report on the progress of the effort and try to find additional ways to enrich the experience of everyone from the staff to the children and parents so that the East Coast award-winning effort makes the biggest difference in the lives of is an important part of the next generation of Americans. Advocacy for these economically challenged and mostly Latino families is an imperative as it is the genius in these children that will find a place in the future leadership of a country that is changing as we speak.

When we visit our schools and centers, we see those eager faces that absorb so much of the Head Start experience. Parents help guide that experience as they take time out of work to partner with staff and other policy makers to make the effort work.

Spending time with these parents reminds me of my mother and the care she took of me in the fields and in our temporary homes. In this case however, there is help in learning the ABCs.

[Published in La Voz Bilingüe on August 10, 2016.]